Even as his relatives prepare to lay the remains of the deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos in their new-found final resting place for him in his hometown of Batac, Ilocos Norte, those who lorded it over during his 20-year rule are still within the corridors of power. Their former patron may be dead but their political careers are still very much alive.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
As his relatives prepare to lay the remains of the deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos in their new-found final resting place for him in his hometown of Batac, Ilocos Norte, those who lorded it over during his 20-year rule are still within the corridors of power. Their former patron may be dead but their political careers are still very much alive.
Ever since they were allowed to return to the Philippines from exile during the Ramos administration, the Marcoses had been lobbying for the remains of the deposed dictator to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) – Marcos as they said being a former president who claimed to have a most-decorated war hero. The preserved body has been on display in a glass coffin in a mausoleum in Batac, 471 kms north of Manila, for several years.
They met stiff opposition particularly from victims of human rights violations during the martial law period and their relatives. The indignation has prevented all Philippine presidents since the 1990s from allowing Marcos’ remains to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
But now, his family appears to be satisfied with the final resting place they have found for him in his hometown.
“We identified the place because it’s not part of controversy,” former First Lady Imelda Marcos was quoted as saying in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “He deserves it. We don’t want to cause any more controversies.”
But if Marcos’ remains are soon to be laid to rest, his relatives and allies are far from going to their final resting place, politically. They still exercise considerable influence over the political scene.
Particularly noticeable in their present political influence, among the Marcos relatives and allies, are Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and Panfilo Lacson, the Estrada family, and House Speaker Jose de Venecia.
Military man as “little president”
Ermita, a 1957 graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), served with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War (1962-1975). He is said to have taken part in “covert operations” against Vietnamese national liberation fighters during his assignment in Vietnam, a claim he has neither confirmed nor denied.
He served as a senior military assistant at the Office of the Undersecretary, Department of National Defense (DND) from 1976 to 1985. From 1985 to 1986, he was commanding general of the military’s Civil Relations Service.
He became a defense undersecretary from 1988 to 1992, and from 1993 to 2001 was involved in various capacities in the peace negotiations with Moro and communist revolutionaries.
In 2003, he was appointed as defense secretary, and was named executive secretary after the 2004 presidential election.
Ermita is presently the most powerful among Marcos’ allies, as he is said to hold the reins of power as “little president” during President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s absences.
The eldest daughter
Imee, who is associated with the opposition bloc in the House of Representatives, has time and again expressed intention of running for a Senate seat. There are signs that she could get her wish. In the July 2006 Pulse Asia survey on senatorial preferences, the late strongman’s eldest daughter came out as 11th out of more than 20 possible senatorial bets, including noted anti-dictatorship fighters like Sen. Joker Arroyo and Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Satur Ocampo.
Because of this, it is worth recalling that four years ago Imee issued a number of statements to the media calling for a “thorough and objective study” of the martial law period, in which its flaws as well as its supposed merits would be taken into account.
Data from various human rights groups place the number of victims of extrajudicial killings under Marcos’ 20-year rule at 1,500. Data from Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) show 759 persons as having involuntarily disappeared during Martial Law. Military historian Alfred McCoy, in his book Closer than Brothers, said there were 35,000 torture victims all in all during the Marcos years.
The economy also plummeted during the Marcos period. In an article written for the Philippine Graphic last year, Rowena Carranza-Paraan showed that when Marcos assumed office in 1965 the country’s foreign debt stood only at less than $1 billion, but had already shot up to $28 billion when he was ousted in 1986.
This is the chapter of our history which, to Imee’s mind, needs a “thorough and objective study” that would take into account not only its flaws but also its supposed merits.
Martial law architect
Enrile is reported to have been recently chosen as the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This has drawn denunciation from human rights advocates, who remember him as one of the architects of martial law – having served as Marcos’ defense minister. “I am the author of martial law,” Enrile himself said in a TV interview in late 1991, a year before the election in which he had originally planned to run for president.